The Examen is part of our tradition. Usually thought of in terms of St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises, it has emphasized watching sins and failings. That emphasis was deepened by our post-Enlightenment emphasis on rules and counting things.
The whole thrust of discernment as a spirituality for the twenty-first century has parted from that. We have opened ourselves deliberately and boldly to finding how the Holy Spirit is leading us here and now. Before we get lost in a haze, we might note that the Spirit has given us very concrete, defined norms to guide our head, heart, and hands: the Spirit’s gifts.
Mature discernment brings us to recognize and enact the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Saying yes to them is one thing; doing them is another. For these gifts are virtues, powers, or authorities. They are like spiritual muscles: exercise them, practice them, and they grow stronger. Do not, and they grow weak.
Here is the proper matter for the Examen in the twenty-first century: all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Take the first gifts of faith, hope, and love. Spend a day or a week—or a longer time if you are weak in it—practicing that virtue. Then patiently work through wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude (courage), piety, knowledge, and fear of the Lord. Or do what one couple did after I explained this to them: they made a flipchart with “the virtue of the day,” which causes a bit of merriment.
But never think that living these virtues is merely of personal interest. “These gifts are meant to renew and build up the Church.” (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 130) Pope Francis’s gifts are surely building up the Church. And wouldn’t the Church in my place and time be wonderfully attractive if all of us went through the week displaying the “fruit of the Spirit,” walking in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control?
The Examen of the future is the Gifts Examen.
—Excerpted from Always Discerning by Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ